Small metal lathe

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WoodchipWilbur

If you never fail you're not trying hard enough
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I have an occasional task (tuning small home cast brass hand bells) that needs a lathe. Currently I am doing this with a variety of abrasives on my woodworking lathe - but it is painfully slow and unsatisfactory.
The bells themselves are around 60-100mm diameter across the mouth.
I am NOT looking to buy a smart new all-singing, all-dancing toy. I know virtually nothing about metal turning, though I can churn out a half decent wooden whatever.
As I trawl the likes of FleaBay, what do I look for? And where else should I look?
 
Do the bells have flat sides out of curiosity? I’d love to see a picture.

Hobby lathe wise you wouldn’t normally do better than a Myford, but if it’s literally for one repetitive task which doesn’t require much accuracy a Chinese or Machine Mart type machine might do the trick. Facebook marketplace is good for this sort of thing and there are a lot of machine tool sales groups.
 
Do the bells have flat sides out of curiosity? I’d love to see a picture.

Hobby lathe wise you wouldn’t normally do better than a Myford, but if it’s literally for one repetitive task which doesn’t require much accuracy a Chinese or Machine Mart type machine might do the trick. Facebook marketplace is good for this sort of thing and there are a lot of machine tool sales groups.
Handbell.jpg

Your wish: My command! That photo makes it look a bit too tall. This one is 69mm dia. I have smoothed it off reasonably - but the metal is far too thick still (so the note is much too high. You'd think that taking metal off made the note higher - but it doesn't)

I'm aware that metal lathes are set up for straight lines - but I'll have to work around that. The Myford Super7 lathe listed by The Bear is far too much of a beast, either for my small shop or my tiny pocket! I'll look around...
 
There are plenty of ways to cut a profile. Myford Super7s are more pricy than the standard 7 so I wouldn’t let that put you off. A small turret lathe might work well for this and they can be cheaper as they’re less sought after.
 
see if u can find an old flat belt lathe......quite cheap compared to Myford, Boxford etc.....
they tend to be a little bigger than those mentioned above.....
Prob around 100squids........
 
Those look like they may fit my budget - and space (some heavy-duty tidying needed, but won't come amiss!) - and it sounds like it only needs putting together. Should be able to sort that. The next jobs will be to work out how to fix my bells in the lathe (They are rather like a wedge of wet soap) and how to machine a profile (particularly inside the bell, which is where tuning should be done.) But, first, let's see if I can bid successfully...
 
do remember the smaller the lathe, the smaller the handwheels and the more stress to turn them. I'd go the easy way and plump for an older flatbelt lathe of a decent size.
 
do remember the smaller the lathe, the smaller the handwheels and the more stress to turn them. I'd go the easy way and plump for an older flatbelt lathe of a decent size.
That is as maybe - but "of a decent size" is a problem in my 15 sqm workshop that already houses:
Table saw; Band saw; planer/thicknesser; Wood lathe; Belt sander; Pillar drill; Extractor; Furnace; Scroll saw. The lathe is fixed. Everything else is on castors and pulls out from under work surface. There is certainly nowhere to put a floor-standing machine, even just a 10/14" length beast. I can clear an area on top of my storage drawers that generally just attracts junk but otherwise it's a matter of throwing something out first.
 
Those look like they may fit my budget - and space (some heavy-duty tidying needed, but won't come amiss!) - and it sounds like it only needs putting together. Should be able to sort that. The next jobs will be to work out how to fix my bells in the lathe (They are rather like a wedge of wet soap) and how to machine a profile (particularly inside the bell, which is where tuning should be done.) But, first, let's see if I can bid successfully...
You could always solder/braze the bell blank onto a piece of brass rod that you can mount in lathe chuck,, then part off when done and reuse the rod for next one.
 
Another vote for a Drummond- have a read up on the lathes.Co. uk website there’s lots about and robust machines. We had a couple of the small yellow Clarke lathes at work and sold them on- pretty gutless and kept blowing fuses etc,
I’m in the fortunate position of having too many lathes and will need to clear some out soon so watch out for an ML7, super 7, Atlas 618 and some Wades. I will advertise them on here
 
Unimat is tiny, far too small for turning bells of the size the OP is talking about. The Drummonds are good machines but very old and will undoubtedly need work, which might be an issue of you don't know a lot about them, also probably too big for the OP's available space. The Chinese 7x14 machines aren't the greatest machines ever made, but are pretty compact, will do what you want and are almost infinitely upgradeable if you get the bug and don't have room for a bigger machine. There are literally hundreds of videos and posts all over detailing mods for these. Suffice to say they are ok out of the box for the sort of work you are proposing, and can actually be turned into very useful machines with a little bit of modding.
They are not going to compete with a decent sized machine in many ways, but if you need something with a reasonable turning capacity that doesn't take up much room they are pretty good, and I can't imagine turning bells requires enormous accuracy. If your bells are home cast then just make the tang, or whatever it's called on a bell, square rather than tapered. You can then mount it in a four jaw independent chuck and get it nicely centered, unless you can cast it accurately enough for a round tang to be reasonably concentric with the bell. And aren't they supposed to be bronze?
 
Hi Wilbur, sorry cannot help with the lathe, but just a question from me. May I ask what the bells are for? I have this vision of "tinkling" them to summon my manservant or calling the Butler's Pantry. Anyway good luck in your search.
 
With small lathes like the SIEG range once they are tuned up they are fine. Just treat them with TLC as the gears are plastic and other components can be fragile.
 
You have abraded on your lathe, but have you tried freehand turning them on your wood lathe using hss tools, should be OK as long as you find a way to deal with the sharp ribbons of brass that come off. Lots of stuff on the web if you search for turning brass on a wood lathe.
 
OK - responding to several bits here...
As Fergie 307 says, something like the Drummond (or anything on its own stand) is a no-no. My workshop (mainly a woodwork shop) is 3.8m x 2.7m (sorry - smaller than the 15 sqm I mentioned above). One side has work surface the full length with space below for things like table saw, p/t, router table, scroll saw, extractor (all on castors to move out when required). Full width windows this side and power sockets above.
Across the back is my lathe (off its legs and mounted on a storage cupboard.
Down the other side is a long "chest of drawers". These are all modular, 60cm swuare and hold a big variety of stuff. Full width doors at the other end.
Any lathe will have to go on the long chest of drawers. (Which otherwise has a tendency to collect junk!)
"I can't imagine turning bells requires enormous accuracy" Well... yes and no! The main part of this job (answering Owd Jockey) is to clean up bells cast by my Junior School "MiniRingers Club" each year. This club runs through the school year - and it culminates in the casting of bells. (Gosh! Surprise! - they don't get to pour hot metal - but they do prtty well eveything else.) The patterns I am using are genuine handbell patterns (we think, Warner's c. 1900) - and they are far too thick. This makes the casting easier but, till a fair bit of metal is removed, they won't "ring".
All of that requires relatively little accuracy - EXCEPT that, if the walls of the bell are not uniform, then the note of the bell "wows" unpleasantly. We try to avoid that. These bells are all cast in brass because it is both easier to pour than the proper bronze (a high tin content alloy - 30% tin) but it is also far more readily available - and cheaper! I have bell metal and use it for my own purposes. It is't half gloopy to pour though!
This is where the accuracy comes in. If I am making a proper tuned handbell, I am trying to tune it so that it vibrates to within a couple of Hz of the right notes. A handbell is tuned with three significant notes (the Dominant, the Hum (an 8ve lower) that the Tierce (a 3rd higher), all tuned at different points of the bell. I wouldn't dream of doing this final tuning with any cutter - 400 grit wet and dry is my toy for that. What I need to do is (in a relatively rough and ready way if necessary) to reduce the wall tickness from around 4mm to around 2mm.
The MiniRingers have a set of commercial handbells - 2 chromatic octaves (25 bells) that are insured for £10,000 - they are not exactly rough-cast and cheap!
The idea of brazing (I don't braze!) or casting a suitable argent (the proper name for the "tang") is very much part of my scheme. The set of patterns I have includes some with exactly what is required: an accurate concentric cylindrical argent. Part of my task for this year (we have just finished this year's casting) is to create a new set of patterns (they are made of aluminium), all of which have this cylindrical argent which will (I hope!) make cleaning them up a great deal easier.
I think Andy's mini-lathe is probably too small.
And, Richard_C, yes, I have tried, but with little success. I think that part of the problem is that, to do anything inside the bell, I need too long a reach - and it starts bumping around alarmingly! I made up a set of "wood turning" tools with carbide tips. From what I've been reading, I suspect I may have done better with HSS. I'll have another bit of a trawl.
Thanks, everybody!
 
Thanks for the description of your process.

To me, it seems that working on the outside first would be easiest. You just need a concentric, conical stub on the lathe mandrel. Push/drive/wedge the open end of the bell onto that, tap it concentric with a mallet, drill a centre hole from the tailstock and then use a tailstock centre in the argent to keep everything in place while you work on the outside. Then the shape and concentricity of the argent itself is immaterial.

Once the outside is finished, use it to cast a female mould (plaster of paris in a metal tube) that can be attached to the lathe mandrel. Drill and tap a hole in the argent for a drawbar through the headstock (do this as the very last step of outside machining). The drawbar will retain the bell and the exterior mould will support it while you work on the inside.

Brass is good because you can cut it with zero rake tooling. That means a form tool for the inside is a possibility.

Please see from 1:00 to 2:00 of this video for an alternative method of manufacture

 
Just seen a small bench mounted myford lathe with motor, drive and 2 boxes of ‘machine work accessories, up at Bedford Auction 2 morrow, W&H Peacock.

Rgds.,

CG
 

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